The possibility of Puerto Rico having access to Supplementary Security Income (SSI) benefits, as of 2024, is positive for the island’s economy and would help reduce the number of people who are living in poverty.

According to economist José Caraballo Cueto, the SSI program will help the neediest sectors. “It seems to me that it is good news because the SSI would reduce the poverty rate in Puerto Rico by seven percentage points,” he said.

“This program is for poor older adults, poor disabled people, and poor children. As the stipend is much greater than PAN (Spanish acronym for the Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits, it would take many people who are now close to the poverty level and move them above the poverty level. They are populations that need it,” Caraballo added.

For the economist, another positive aspect of President Biden’s budget blueprint and social agenda framework, under the Build Back Better Act, which is now being debated by U.S. lawmakers, is the employment credit in the manufacturing sector.

“Although it is true that it will not generate a return of manufacturing as we saw with Section 936, it does help so that the industries here in [Puerto Rico] do not continue to leave. This helps preserve Puerto Rico’s industrial base, which are jobs that do not compete with other jobs in the local sector,” he explained.

Caraballo pointed out that Biden’s framework on social welfare issues, which includes permanent funding for Medicaid in the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, came just as the island is preparing for the approval of the government’s Plan of Adjustment in federal court.

“The assignment to Medicaid gives us relief because the money that we are going to use for the debt would come from the contributions we now make for Mi Salud. They are funds that come in to replace that and can be used to pay off the debt. That alleviates a bit the threat of a second default,” he said.

Biden’s Build Back Better Act must pass the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate before it can be signed by the president.

Should pass in the U.S. House and Senate

For her part, Carmen Feliciano, director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) cited a study by the Center for the New Economy to indicate that this benefit could reach almost half a million people on the island. She explained that the bill could go to a vote in Congress in the coming week.

“For it to move in the House, the Senate president has to give assurance that we have the 50 Democratic senators supporting the measure in the Senate. As it is a budgetary measure, it has to start in the House. What is expected is that once it is approved in the House, it will be voted and passed in the Senate,” she said.

Feliciano also indicated that, although the SSI money would not be received in Puerto Rico until 2024, the measure will imply immediate allocations in certain areas, such as an increase in funds for the Medicaid program, with which the government’s health plan for the medically indigent is paid.

“That is for this fiscal year and it would be permanent. We were waiting for that contribution in Puerto Rico to drop to 55 percent as of December 3, but we already know that this will not happen. It will remain at 76 percent,” she said.

Health Secretary Carlos Mellado also pointed out that the announcement of more funds for Medicaid would be a relief for the island.

“There is still a long way to go, but we are happy because both the governor (Pedro Pierluisi) and I have been visiting Washington, sitting down with members of Congress so that they understand that in Puerto Rico, we do not have access to the programs as in the rest of the nation. We don’t have the money for emergency transportation, durable diabetes medical equipment, and adult vaccinations. There is an important need,” he said about the money that will come to the island.

“Right away, we would have a match (in Medicaid funds) of 76 percent and the next year it goes up to 80 percent. If it is not approved, we would have a 50 percent match again and that is a lot of money that Puerto Rico has to put up. If the legislation is approved, it would be very positive for Puerto Rico, “he said.

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